Sylvester Ahola was born and raised in Lanesville; his parents had emigrated from Finland around 1895 and settled there. They worked in the quarries and raised dairy cows. As a boy of eight, Sylvester Ahola made a bugle from a garden hose and a funnel and began to play the horn. Recognizing that he had talent, his parents got him a cornet and sent him to Boston for lessons. He soon was playing trumpet locally with the local Waino Band and the Workingman’s Band. He became well-known playing in Boston and North Shore dance orchestras.
It wasn’t long before Sylvester was offered positions in Boston and New York with some of the most well-known jazz and dance bands of the time, including Bix Beiderbecke, Paul Specht and Cass Hagen. In 1927 he went to London to play at the Savoy Hotel, and then the Mayfair with Bert Ambrose, where he spent most of the later 1920’s. In 1931, Sylvester and his wife Saima returned to New York where Ahola continued to play and record in New York studios throughout the 1930’s.
Over his career Ahola, known as “Hooley” to his friends, recorded over 4,000 sides of records for about 14 different recording companies. He was sought after for his versatility and purity of tone, and was an excellent technical player. However, on many of the records he was uncredited or mistaken. Much of his music was rediscovered in the 1970’s and 1980’s largely due to the efforts of British discographer Brian Rust. His biography, Sylvester Ahola, The Gloucester Gabriel by Dick Hill was published in 1993 with a full discography illustrating his vast talent and musical diversity.
Sylvester had always wanted to return to Gloucester, and in 1940, he and his wife Saima came home to Lanesville for good, taking up residence at the home they called “Shadbush.” In his retirement, Ahola became a well-known ham radio broadcaster and music collector. He continued to play locally and regularly at the Lanesville Congregational Church. He died in 1995 at the age of 92.
To learn more and hear Hooley’s voice as he talks about his life, please visit: Toward an oral history of Cape Ann: Ahola, Sylvester “Hooley” on the Sawyer Free Library website.
Listen to his music here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlxkDXqkbUc